Ralph Krueger no doubt was thinking at this point he would still be coaching in the NHL. After all he was just named Edmonton Oilers head coach in June 2012, prior to last year’s lockout shortened season. I’m sure it was a shock to hear he was not going to be given more than the 48 games to make his mark on the young Oilers, and was unceremoniously removed in favour of up and coming Dallas Eakins.
Krueger no doubt was thinking at this point he would still be coaching in the NHL. After all he was just named Edmonton Oilers head coach prior to last year’s lockout shortened season. I’m sure it was a shock to hear he was not going to be given more than the 48 games to make his mark on the young Oilers, and was unceremoniously removed for up and coming Dallas Eakins.
It didn’t take Krueger long to find another job though. It wasn’t another head coach job or immediately jumping behind the bench again, but when Mike Babcock and Team Canada came calling, Krueger had a hard time saying no to whatever role it was. “I got a phone call from head coach Mike Babcock two days after it (firing as the Edmonton Oilers’ head coach)…it wasn’t something I was expecting,” said Krueger.
Officially hired by Canada’s Olympic staff as a consultant to the coaching staff, Krueger could end up being as valuable or more as the coaching staff that will actually be on the bench.
Krueger’s role will be varied. Primarily working as an advance scout, he has been busy putting together video and material on Canada’s potential opponents and getting an idea of how other countries will try and attack Canada.
“When you watch Sweden, Finland, Russia, Czechs, Switzerland, Austria—everybody—in November and December, they really show you how they want to play at the Olympics even though the personnel was different,” Krueger says from his home in Switzerland. “It gives us quite a heads-up on what’s coming at us. Now when they plug in this personnel it will just raise the skill level and the ability of the group, but not necessarily the way they’re going to play as far as the system is concerned.”
Krueger’s position is unique in the sense that few other team’s have someone in his role, and if they do, few are as credentialed as Krueger to be able to break down the European game and how it can affect Canada.
Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Krueger is Canadian born but of German descent. He has a decorated international playing and coaching career and is most known for his time as head coach of the Swiss National Team. Canadians will remember him as the coach in 2006 at the Turin Olympics where his Switzerland team upset the Pat Quinn-led Team Canada 2-0. It’s also a reminder of how the international game is different than that of North America and talent only gets you so far.
Krueger knows the differences better than most, having played and coached in both environments.
“He’s lived over there, coached over there and understands the big ice,” says Babcock. “He’s been around way more Olympics than the rest of us…. He’s not working in the NHL this year—Hitch wasn’t last time—so they become a great resource for the head coach because they’re available to talk to you all the time and do the projects you don’t have time to do. He’s been fantastic.”
As an NHL head coach he was given just the one lockout shortened season last year as head coach before being replaced by Dallas Eakins. He served as an assistant to Tom Renney the two previous seasons.
Judging by the struggles of Eakins and the team this season, last year’s failures cannot be placed solely at the feet of Krueger. Those within the hockey community realize the unfair position he was in and that he was a victim of circumstance as much as he was judged on his team’s record in less than a full season.
Krueger is known as a motivator and a tactician. Someone who has an eye for details and is always well prepared as well as being an excellent communicator. His work with the Swiss National Team speaks for itself. That experience as well as his familiarity with the Canadian coaching staff and NHL game makes him a perfect candidate for the position. His input and presence will be invaluable to Canada and trying to get them to understand the differences in style and how they will have to adjust going to the bigger ice.
He will, and has, been able to spend more time on scouting and preparation than the rest of the coaching staff as they will be coming directly from their NHL coaching positions to Sochi. Krueger will be the first member of the staff their and ready to prepare the rest of the coaches as well as players.
Canada’s two recent gold medals in 2002 and 2010 both came in North America, and they failed to even medal in either 1998 or 2006, both of which were held in Europe.
Team Canada is hoping 2014 will be different. If they win gold, they will owe it in small part to the behind the scenes work of Ralph Krueger.
If they don’t win gold, it won’t be because they weren’t prepared.